What is Wrong with Michigan Basketball? [Guest Post]

3 12 2009

So, for the last week I’ve actually been swamped with work for the first time all semester. Unfortunately it has taken a toll on my blogging, as I haven’t been able to dedicate time to a legitimate long post about sports. Luckily one of my roommates was able to attend last night’s Michigan basketball game against Boston College and after a bad loss, he needed to vent. After some light encouragement [I berated him with insults until he agreed to write something], he agreed to a guest post. Below is his take after attending the game [with a few of my edits]. My next post will likely be my response with some of my own thoughts on the team.  But for now, enjoy the first official guest post on SwB:

After a 3-3 start, the University of Michigan basketball team is quickly sliding and many fans are starting to fear the reality that this team may be playing itself out of contention for the NCAA Tournament.  After three demoralizing losses to teams that were not expected to compete with the upper echelons of their respective conferences, Michigan finds itself desperately searching for a key out-of-conference victory.  Unfortunately, they only have 3 more opportunities left with road games at Utah and Kansas and a home affair against UConn in January.  We have no trouble forgetting the bubble talks that transpired last February and March. Every time that Michigan’s name was brought up, their upset victories over UCLA and Duke came right afterwards.  Many fans are having visions of the future bubble talks of 2010 where Michigan, Marquette, and Boston College are all fighting for tournament berths and Michigan is at a significant disadvantage due to their head-to-head losses.

However, these issues can be dealt with 25 games down the line after Michigan suffers a disappointing loss in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament to a mediocre Minnesota team [don’t you love my optimism?].  Tonight’s post is to deal with the current situation at hand, and that is: What the fuck is our beloved Michigan squad doing out there!?  Now, I do not consider myself a Michigan basketball know-it-all who can sit here and list for you Zack Novak’s plus-minus at Crisler Arena or tell you Manny Harris’ shooting percentage after he dribbles to his left, but I have been at this school for four years and am a very dedicated fan.  There are two main issues that the general population has decided are the cause of Michigan’s early season struggles: 3 point shooting and defense.  While others may point out that rebounding is a big problem for Michigan, John Beilein will simply point out that his teams at his previous college stops usually do not outrebound the opposition, yet have still managed to excel.  He also utilizes his 1-3-1 defense to ensure that his defense will get more steals than the other team, which in essence could be counted as rebounds because they represent an end to the other team’s possession.

In my opinion, the more important issue is team defense over 3-point shooting.  As Beilein loves to point out, we have to expect that over a 30+ game season, a player will shoot somewhere near the percentage that he has averaged over his career.  Guys like Stu Douglass and Manny Harris will not continue to shoot below 20% from behind the arc for the entire season, and we can all agree that a made 3 pointer here or there could definitely have given us another win or two in the standings.  Unfortunately, the team defense has been atrocious and there isn’t a giant green highway sign directing us towards better days where we will routinely defend a size-advantaged opponent.  Boston College began both halves of the game feeding the ball inside against whatever defense Michigan ran. Whether it was the 1-3-1 or man-to-man they got lay-up after lay-up against Michigan’s intimidating frontline of a 6’5 Zack Novak and a 6’8 DeShawn Sims [who managed to look like he was more stoned and confused on defense than, yes, a guy who actually was stoned and confused].  I mean honestly DeShawn, is it possible for you to look more disinterested out there on the court?  Boston College was running a simple flex offense in which a man-to-man defense merely needs to keep switching through screens to prevent the backdoor cuts and open elbow jump shot.  But from my bird’s eye view in the 5th to last row of Section 5 [I thought student tickets were supposed to give us good seats] it appeared that many of our defensive breakdowns stemmed from our failure to switch, which was usually in the area of Sims.  Nobody is challenging your talent DeShawn, but it would definitely be nice to see you put together a complete game on both the offensive and defensive end.

While we are on the topic of outstanding effort, why don’t we talk about the 1-3-1 trap defense.  As an esteemed middle school recreational basketball coach who loves to implore this defense, I have a few bones to pick with the way that Michigan utilizes it.  When you put out such an undersized, and quite frankly, less athletic line up, it is imperative that you are trapping up top. This takes away the cross-court pass to the weak-side block big man who is posting up a helpless Laval Lucas Perry.  Alabama must have run this play 146 times with Michigan refusing to put pressure on top [like I said, I had bad seats, so this is only a rough estimate].  What’s funny to me is that at the end of the BC game when Michigan was attempting to make a late run, behind a surprisingly loud Ann Arbor crowd, the defense became much more swarming to and around the ball and managed to force turnovers and rushed shots.  This effort and energy needs to be there consistently if Michigan wants to stop anybody on defense.  Michigan did seem to employ their man-to-man defense more than usual, but this was probably because they just weren’t scoring and could not set up the zone.

If it was because of our inability to score, then I suppose this post has come full circle.  Our defense sucks, but we can’t set up our effective defense unless we score on offense.  Unfortunately, our offense also sucks, and could use a boost from some easy layups created by turnovers off of the zone traps.  For all of our struggling shooters, an easy layup will help them get into the flow of the game and make outside shots seem more makeable.  Despite our losses of senior “extraordinaires” David Merritt, CJ Lee, and Jevohn Shepherd, we have essentially the same core of last year and know what this team is made of.  We are a year ahead of schedule in our rebuilding process and perhaps had unrealistic expectations heading into this season.  On the other hand, we have a battle-tested roster that has played in a ton of close games and nothing they see this year should be a surprise.  The reality is that this is still a relatively young team, and if we have any faith in Coach Beilein we will trust that he knows what is going on and will make the proper adjustments to ensure that Michigan continues its upward path towards success.

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Michigan Wolverines Basketball Preview

8 11 2009

So the college basketball season has officially begun (I guess it was an exhibition game, but who cares) and I couldn’t be more excited. I’m going to put my die-hard devotion to the North Carolina Tar Heels on hold to discuss something a little closer to home. I was able to attend the exhibition game between the Michigan Wolverines and the Wayne State team name that I have no interest in looking up. This is an exciting year for the Wolverines because they’re actually good! And god knows we need the distraction after the what has happened to our group of padded young men that scores less points than their opponents football team.

 

Although I only stayed for ¾ of the game [we were up by 20 for most of it] I think I got a pretty good idea of the team’s strengths and weaknesses. John Beilein has a tendency to bring pesky teams into the tournament and this team will certainly be one of them. If the team can get some help from some key guys off the bench, it wouldn’t be out of this world to be thinking about an elite eight birth.

 

Manny Harris is a stud, and could very well be a lottery pick. He can shoot, pass, penetrate and play D with the best of them. There were 3 or 4 times when he made a concerted effort to lock down on defense and picked the ball clean for a steal. In close games he’s going to be the one with the ball in his hands, and Michigan fans can rest assured that he knows what he’s doing. DeShawn Sims will complete Michigan’s 1-2 punch by stretching opposing big men with his outside game and hopefully lock down some much needed defensive rebounding.

 

One of the problems with Beilein’s teams is that they tend to live and die by the 3-pointer. That’s what makes them so exciting to watch. After a few years of recruiting, Beilein has brought in a bunch of guys that can connect from downtown. Zach Novak and Stu Douglass are sweet shooters that are going to drive opposing teams wild. With the new addition of Matt Vogrich, deemed one of the best shooters in the country [before he even took a single shot] Michigan is going to be raining threes all over the place. Something that is overlooked with these guys is there ability to move the ball and make smart passes. If they can develop chemistry [Douglass and Novak already play pretty well together] then it will be much easier for them to find the open shot.

 

The point guard position has been a serious problem with Michigan in recent years. They need a guy to penetrate, forcing opposing defenses to collapse, but also someone that can hit an open three. Although I only saw 20 minutes of freshman Darius Morris, I’m excited for his future. He’s got good form on his shot, but more importantly you can tell that he has great handle. Laval Lucas-Perry is a solid backup [although he started at the SG position] that wont hesitate to shoot or penetrate.

 

My X-factor for this team is a man named Ben Cronin. Cronin was red shirted last year due to injuries but if he’s healthy and can earn the trust of his coach I think he can help this team overcome a serious limitation. This team is going to have serious problems rebounding. With Zach Novak playing the 4, teams are going to have multiple opportunities for offensive rebounds. Zach Gibson has some size, but he’s a serious liability on the court [because he’s not good at basketball]. As a side note, I had lunch with him in the cafeteria once freshman year; he’s quite a goofy fellow. Cronin supposedly has the ability to hit the outside shot and at 7 feet tall he’s a defensive presence in the middle that we seriously lack [I mean, we’re starting a 6’5’’ 200 lb power forward].

 

I’m looking forward to a season full of ups and downs in the competitive Big 10, but I think Michigan has some serious potential and definitely has a chance to win the conference.